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Identity theft risk is spiking

Medical Economics JournalMedical Economics March 2021
Volume 98
Issue 3

An unexpected consequence of COVID-19 is a significant rise in identity theft and related cybercrimes. Here are the most common traps to watch for and a response plan in case it happens to you or someone you know.

There has been discussion of numerous risks related to the pandemic, including the need to reexamine liability insurance coverage, the importance of effective mask-usage policies, the ways COVID-19 threatens medical practices and how to survive its effects on your income and the economy.

One risk we anticipated, although not to the extent to which it happened, has been a spike in identity theft. The statistics are shocking. It happens every two seconds, has affected 30% of the United States population. Here’s what you need to know about these scams.

Scams Fall Into Three Major Categories

1 Getting you to reveal personal identifying information by phone, online or text message or through some other form of phishing that often imitates a vendor, bank or business.

2 Using malware to infect your computer or smartphone to get your passwords and other personal information or using ransomware to lock you out of your computers and files. This may include the use of malicious links and attachments in emails and text messages, asking you to call a fake customer service number or directing you to a fake login page where you are asked to enter or confirm your information.

3 Getting you to send money to or make purchases from organizations that are not legitimate in one or more ways.

Some COVID-19 scams

There are a variety of consumer, security and financial industry articles on this issue, but one of the most concise summaries of pandemic-specific threats I have seen and one I have saved to share with my clients is from PNC Bank. Their list includes the following:

1 PPE and medical supply scams: Beware of fraudulent websites offering PPE, vaccines, testing kits or other scarce supplies at prices too good to be true. In some cases, they will bill but never deliver; deliver counterfeit, expired or nonconforming goods; or simply steal the credit card information.

2 Remote work scams: This goes both ways, so remote workers and their employers should be vigilant about checking details like return email addresses and should verify any unfamiliar, private or new email addresses with the sender by phone before disclosing any sensitive information.

3 Impersonation: Scammers pretend to be a real medical or health organization while selling products that falsely claim to prevent, diagnose or treat COVID-19.

What to Do if It Happens

For most Americans, it is a now question of when, not if, identity theft will affect you, a family member or a colleague. Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a nicely designed government website that makes the identity theft reporting process simple. It provides a step-by-step checklist and online progress tracking system, including an online report form you can fill out in minutes. There also are prefilled forms you may need with financial institutions and links to credit agencies and others you will need to access, make reports to and get your credit report from.

Basic Steps to Take Immediately

  • Call the company or government agency where the fraud occurred and file a formal report.
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit report or freeze and get your credit reports.
  • Report identity theft to the FTC using the website and get a report number.
  • File a report with local police.
  • Review your credit reports with all three credit agencies, correct any mistakes and dispute any fraudulent reports or accounts (links at FTC website).
  • Notify banks of any fake accounts opened in your name.
  • Change your passwords.
  • Stay vigilant.

Ike Devji, J.D., has practiced law in the areas of asset protection and risk management. Send questions to medec@mjhlifesciences.com.

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